French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference at the Energy Interconnections Summit at the European Maritime Safety Agency in Lisbon on July 27, 2018. - AFP PHOTO - PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA
Agence France-Presse

French unemployment dipped by 0.1 percent in the second quarter, provisional figures showed Tuesday — frustratingly slow progress for President Emmanuel Macron who has promised his economic reforms will generate jobs.

“It’s a step forward but it’s still not enough,” Employment Minister Muriel Penicaud, who usually avoids quick-fire reactions to jobless figures, said in a tweet.

Unemployment was at 9.1 percent in the March-June quarter compared with 9.4 percent in the same period last year, just before Macron came to office vowing to shake up the economy with business-friendly policies.

His centrist government has since pushed through controversial reforms to France’s famously rigid labour regulations, along with tax cuts — particularly for the wealthy — that prompted critics to label him a “president of the rich”.

National statistics office Insee had forecast in June that unemployment would drop 0.2 percent in the second quarter.

Elected in May 2017, former investment banker Macron pledged on the campaign trail to bring unemployment down to seven percent by 2022.

While that appears a long way off, the prime minister’s office insisted in late July that it remains “reasonable to think that unemployment will fall” and Macron has said his reforms will need two years to take effect fully.

Youth unemployment — a stubborn problem under Macron’s Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande — appears to be easing.

Some 20.8 percent of French workers under 24 were unemployed in the second quarter — the lowest level since 2008.

The 0.1 percent drop in unemployment overall reported by Insee is within the 0.3 percent margin of error for such estimates. The statistics agency might adjust the figure in its final estimates.

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